One of the true giants of philosophy of the last 100 years, Antony Garrard Newton Flew has passed away at the good age of 87. The eighth of April 2010 was his last day.
He was best known during most of his academic career as a truly intellectually respectable proponent of what is sometimes called “negative atheism.” In fact Flew was largely the one responsible for the introduction of that term. He acknowledged that the word “atheist” historically referred to one who believed that God does not exist, but he asked for a gentler usage, where it essentially means an agnostic who is inclined to doubt theism rather than accept it.
That changed in 2004 when Flew moved away from atheism, and accepted that there was a God after all. Things heated up in 2007 with the publication of There is a God: How the World’s most notorious atheist changed his mind. Unfortunately, many in the atheist community, especially Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers, responded to this change of mind by belittling and patronising Flew with suggestions that he had lost his marbles, that Christians were manipulating him into saying what they wanted, and that his change of mind was “sad.” I suppose there are no holds barred when it comes to the possibility of admitting that an intelligent person was convinced by the evidence that there is a God. Flew was strongly critical of the work of Dawkins, labelling him a “bigot”. Those close to Flew maintained that whether he was right or wrong, he knew full well what he was talking about when he explained his new position. According to Antony Flew himself:
My name is on the book and it represents exactly my opinions. I would not have a book issued in my name that I do not 100 percent agree with. I needed someone to do the actual writing because I’m 84 and that was Roy Varghese’s role. The idea that someone manipulated me because I’m old is exactly wrong. I may be old but it is hard to manipulate me. This is my book and it represents my thinking.
I wish he had changed his mind more than he did, for obvious reasons.
The world recently lost one of its finest philosophers.